Guests often ask me where have I travelled to or where would I like to travel to? My answer is always an easy one- I want to see all the forests and jungles of the world, the reason being that they are some of the most intriguing places one could visit, not to mention their extraordinary trees, diverse species and complex ecosystems.
Forests come in many forms but for the sake of this blog I am going to focus on what are typically known as ‘Rainforests’.
The first definition one comes across when searching the word Rainforest –
“A luxuriant, dense forest rich in biodiversity, found typically in tropical areas with consistently heavy rainfall”.
Being found in the equatorial or tropical regions of the world there is little to no seasonal changes, maybe we could say that certain times of the year are slightly more wet than others, but in a nutshell, there is a lot of rain and the climate is warm and humid. Generally, the word “jungle” is used to describe types of rainforests with very dense undergrowth. The jungles that we know and think of are mostly found in the tropical region of Africa, South America, New Guinea and some parts of Australia. Jungles grow in tropical regions of Africa, South America, New Guinea some parts of southeast Asia and parts of Australia.
Essentially when one thinks of a jungle it isn’t simply a lot of trees in one area, but rather a thick dense undergrowth of vines, ferns, shrubs, flowers, fungi, and many other plants with towering trees overhead, thickly canopied blocking out a large percentage of the suns light from reaching the forest floor.
Other ‘forests’ so to speak can take a similar form to rainforests or jungles although they may not be found in the tropical regions. These areas are known as temperate rainforests and are influenced by latitudinal positions that affect temperature changes, certain geological elements such as mountain ranges, waterfalls or the proximity to the ocean, sea currents, prevailing wind direction, continentality (how large a landmass is), and altitude. Whereas a jungle is influenced by the consistent rainfall and warm temperatures on the equator.
Rainforests are home to a diverse array of plant life and with it a vast array of animal and insect life that thrive in their unique ecosystems that are dominated by warm moist environments.
Rainforests cover 7% of the earth and are vital for the health of this planet are the richest habitats on the earth in terms of species diversity and value added to the functioning of the planet. Rainforests act as the lungs of the planet accounting for a huge component of carbon dioxide being removed from the air every second and the release of enormous quantities of oxygen into the air. Every breath we breathe we borrow from the lungs of the world that are the trees living in the forests.
Apart from their environmental importance, what I love about rainforests is that there are still so many unknown species to be discovered living within them and new species are being discovered every week. We know so little about most of the species living in these jungles, for example, one species that fascinates me is the clouded leopard found in the rainforests of Indonesia, we know very little about it and it is one of the larger animals found in this forest.
So, here are some of the must-see forests and jungles of the world…
In the heart of Africa in the Congo grows a near 18 000-year-old rainforest which makes it the youngest, yet it is the second largest rainforest in the world. But why the Congo? The Congo is home to more of the bigger animals than any other forest. One of these is the most endangered and rare species of gorilla, the Mountain gorilla. Walking through the Congo forests you may come across a silverback gorilla (the dominant male) leading his band through the heavy undergrowth. He is their protector from any threats and his band is indirectly protecting the forest.
Although gorillas do not have many natural threats or predators, habitat loss, poaching, disease and war have been responsible for their rapid decline, which has halved the gorilla population making all species critically endangered. Continue walking through the forest and you are bound to come across a large pathway, one created by the ancient African forest elephants. If luck is on your side you may even be able to come across one of the few living in the forest, following the paths made by their ancestors, leading them to food or water.
It is these two large mammals that are the main seed disperses of these trees and plants of the forest, the trees owe their existence to these animals.
Borneo lowland forest
A 130 million years old forest found in Southeast Asia, making it the oldest forest. With a rich and diverse species list that supports approximately 15,000 plant species, 380 bird species and a whole host of animal species, more diverse than the whole of Europe. Amongst these is the world’s oldest predator, the Velvet Worm which has remained unchanged since the dinosaurs were around. Since we are speaking of diversity, the Sand River that runs through Londolozi has greater biodiversity than the whole of the United Kingdom, but that is a discussion for another day.
Back to Borneo, there is an interesting mutualistic relationship between a pitcher plant and a mountain tree shrew. The basis of which is the exchange of nutritional resources. The shrews like the nectar on the lid of the pitcher plant, which is only accessible to the tree shrews when they position their hindquarters over the pitcher orifice. Tree shrews are known to mark valuable resources with faeces and regularly defecate into the pitchers when they visit them to feed. Faeces represent a valuable source of nitrogen for these Nepenthes species
Home to half of our planet’s remaining rainforests. The lure of the jaguars and the fact that every animal group found there have more species than anywhere else.
There are two million types of insects! There is one insect that stands out to me, the leaf cutter ant which cuts leaves to be used in a nest 8m deep. Within their colony, there are thousands of interconnecting chambers to create gardens of fungi that help digest and process the cellulose from the plant matter which they then feed to their young. They have teamed up with bacteria that help control pathogens that destroy the fungi. Scientists now believe that these bacteria can help in human diseases. A similar relationship is found in Londolozi, fungi growing termites also grow fungi in their mounds to help break down cellulose in dead organic matter which helps feed their colony.
Is spectacularly beautiful to see in itself, but it is not only about the beauty, it would be of interest to go see the orangutans, which sadly 100 are lost every week because of deforestation for palm oil and cattle ranches.
Londolozi Leadwood Forest
Lastly, but not least the Leadwood forest is a must-see. I know this does not classify as a rainforest and is in fact nowhere near a rainforest. I simply had to include it in this blog as it is a stunning place on the reserve and I feel that it needed mentioning. Although I have the fortune of seeing it almost every day I enjoy every visit just as much as the last. It consists of ancient Leadwood trees that have taken hundreds of years to get to that size. The indigenous people to the area believe that, because it stands alive for hundreds of years and once dead it still stands for a further few hundred years due to its impenetrable wood, it is where their ancestors live within. It is a very sacred place and every time you walk or drive through you are bound to get goosebumps.
When you plan your next trip take these forests into consideration. Sadly, the planet is losing all rainforests at least 15 million hectares every year. Forest/jungles/woods store and capture more carbon than anything else, they cool the planet and provide food and medicine. By raising awareness of these incredibly valuable assets to the natural world and visits to the forest, we can help save them.